The Art of Nature Show (Environmental Education Center building at Lord Stirling Park)

Relaxing with a book in an outdoor classroom in front of the Environmental Education Center.

The Art of Nature Show held at the Environmental Education Center at Lord Stirling Park (part of the Somerset County Park Commission) was brought to my attention by friends who know I’m always interested in learning about local artists.  Not being familiar with any of the artists featured, or the facility itself, I was eager to take a trip to see the show.

The Environmental Education Center is situated next to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge on 950 acres of land, that in the 1600s had been the home of the Lenni-Lenapes, and in the late 1700s had been the home of Revolutionary War major-general, William Alexander (Lord Stirling).  Within walking distance from the Environmental Education building, you can find a myriad of wildlife living in the midst of forests, open fields and meadows, swamps, rivers, streams, and ponds.  For those interested in exploring the surrounding area, there are 8.5 miles to hike, and maps can be picked up in the Environmental Education building.

The Environmental Education Center building.

Inside the building, there is a gift shop with trinkets commemorating both the fun and beauty of nature, a library, and the gallery where I found the Art of Nature Show that I had been looking for.  The show is on display in a large room with high, slanted ceilings, and features the impressive work of about twenty local artists.  As I began to walk around the space, the word that immediately came to mind was “respect.”  It is evident that the artists have a great respect for their subjects and through their work, that respect was transferred to me (someone who doesn’t stop to smell the roses or appreciate the beauty of the bald eagle as often as I should).  I felt humble and human as I quietly walked around with my notebook and pen in hand, focusing on each raindrop, each feather, each moment captured by either a painting or photograph.

Unique among the watercolors and photography were the scratchboards of the talented Basking Ridge native, Colby Krolak.  Krolak has always had a deep appreciation for nature and when studying at the duCret School of Art, her subjects were often wildlife, animals in particular.  While classmates enjoyed working with media like acrylics and charcoal, Krolak found a strong connection between her primary subjects of owls, raptors, and other birds of prey, with the scratchboard drawing technique.  Scratchboards have been around since the 19th century when people would use sharp tools to etch drawings into a surface of white clay or chalk covered in black ink because it was less expensive than the wax and metal or wood materials that had been used previously as templates for printing.  The practice was not used as much once photography presented another way to accomplish printing goals, but in the 20th Century, scratchboards as finished pieces of art themselves became popular.

Scratchboards by Colby Krolak on display at the Art of Nature Show.

When talking about why she chose to use scratchboards, Krolak says, “I fell in love with it from the first piece.”  She enthusiastically speaks about how through her favorite medium, she is able to uncover the story hiding within each board.  And with her masterful technique, each whisker or claw or curve of a beak is brought out of the ink and into life.

Krolak loves domesticated animals as well as the wild ones and is also available for pet portrait commissions.  Information about the portraits can be found on her website:  http://www.colbykrolak.com/.  The Art of Nature Show will run until April 26, 2010.  Afterwards, you can find Krolak’s work during July and August at the Bernardsville Audubon Center.

My favorite of Krolak's scratchboards in the Art of Nature Show.

Reminding you to stop and appreciate the nature around us,
~Melissa 🙂
The Jersey Girl

Related links and sources:
http://www.somersetcountyparks.org/
http://www.colbykrolak.com/
http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=18231
http://www.nanticoke-lenape.org/
http://www.scratchboard-art.com/about.html

(You can read a related post about my trip to Colonial Park, part of the Somerset County Park Commission, here.)

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A sweet time at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival!

Admiring the work of photographer, Jon Mullen, at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival.

When I think of crafts, I think of things along the lines of what my late grandmother used to make and hang on her Christmas tree.  You know what I mean, lots of multi-colored yarn, puffy pom poms, glitter, and those three-sided beads (that were always so much fun to stack).  I think of crocheted tissue box covers decorated with dried flowers.  I think of hot glue and tiny dolls made of clothespins and fabric rosettes.

These were the sorts of things I imagined I would see when I visited the Sugarloaf Craft Festival at the Garden State Exhibit Center on Saturday, March 13th.  To my delight, what I found instead was an abundance of accomplished jury-selected artisans showcasing collections of art ranging from sculpture to wearables (like scarves, jewelry, and handbags) to paintings and drawings to photography and so much more. The Sugarloaf Craft Festival, travels through the New England and Mid-Atlantic areas, and is one of the nation’s best shows of its kind.

Marty Silverman demonstrating his work at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival.

Once inside, I shook the rain off of my coat and immediately began to search for the many NJ artists in the show.  The first I came across was Marty Silverman as he was sharing the magic of his work with a sculpture demonstration.  Silverman, a retired art teacher from Jackson, NJ, uses a hammer and chisel to sculpt alabaster, lava, and Rhyolite-Farrago (a stone found in Colorado) and from these raw rocks, manages to capture emotions of daily life as well as the graceful fluidity of nature.  Silverman says of his work, “I let my feelings and the natural forms in each stone lead me on the journey to a finished work of art.”  It is a journey well worth taking.

Continuing on my journey through the festival, I came across a great weakness of mine, accessories (scarves in particular).  When I saw a booth full of vibrant handmade scarves of a variety of designs, I had to stop and (at least) try them on.  Terry Lo, a Manalapan, NJ resident, makes all of the scarves herself, including “string” scarves, shawls, and hybrid scarf necklaces (what I ultimately purchased).  Lo has been crafting her scarves, through her home-based business, for about six years and travels to local craft shows with her daughter, Jimay, who helps her with sales.  Besides keeping busy selling her scarves at local crafts shows, Lo is also available for hostess parties in private homes.  You can reach her by email at terrylo@optonline.net and find out how you can update your look for spring with a beautiful new scarf.

Terry Lo demonstrates for Joan Morris the many ways to tie her beautiful scarves.

After a few attempts to get his attention, I was finally able to speak with a talented artist who lives in my hometown of Milltown, NJ, John DeAmicis.  DeAmicis’ work has appeared in galleries all over the world and includes whimsical and inspirational, limited edition pencil and ink prints.  Some owners of DeAmicis’ work whom you may recognize are Elton John, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Henry Kissinger, Pepsi, and the Dr. Seuss estate.  And very recently added to the list, yours truly.  I purchased a print with an encouraging Tennyson quote, “That which we are, we are, and if we are ever to be any better now is the time to begin.” You can view an image of this meaningful and delicate print here.  DeAmicis will be appearing in a show in Verona Park, NJ in May and a show in Haddonfield, NJ in July.  A full list of upcoming shows is available on his website.

John DeAmicis standing with his work at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival. (If you look closely, you can see the print I purchased.)

Though my focus at the festival was with New Jersey artists, I was also hypnotized by the breathtaking photography of Colorado photographer, Jon Mullen.  Mullen is an accomplished photographer, having published his work over 200 times, and was recently awarded the prize of “Best in Show” at the Boulder Creek Festival’s juried competition.  With his work capturing both the serenity and complexity of nature, it was hard for me to choose just one print to purchase at this show.  I ended up choosing a print called “Yellow Pond Lily” for my office.  (I’m hoping that the next print I purchase from Mullen will be one he takes of our beautiful state, New Jersey.)

Christina Rudczynski and photographer, Jon Mullen at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival.

Aside from the 275 artisans at the show, there was also live music, craft demonstrations, shows for children, and plenty of specialty food to purchase (and sample).  I couldn’t possibly experience it all in one day, so I’m looking forward to the festival coming back to NJ in October!

INFORMATION ABOUT THE SHOW:
Tickets for the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival are $7 if purchased online, $8 for adults if purchased at the door, and free for children under 12.  (Be sure to visit the website before purchasing tickets to see if any coupons are available.) Tickets are good for all three days. Free parking is available.  http://www.sugarloafcrafts.com/index.html

~Melissa
The Jersey Girl

You have to begin somewhere…

It’s always interesting to me to learn what people think about my home state when I tell them I’m from New Jersey.  People from the eastern region of the U.S.  tend to think of us in terms of our dreary Turnpike (which, of course, we only use to get to get out of our dreadful state and go to New York) and will jokingly ask me, “What’s your exit?”  Or, I get comments like, “Isn’t that SUPPOSED to be the Garden State?  What happened to all the gardens?”  People who are not from the U. S., say Italy for example (I choose Italy as an example because that is actually where I am as I type this entry), know New Jersey (if at all) only because it is near New York and Philadelphia.  But as a state we are so much more than a Turnpike…with a stench…near two major cities.

We have character, and charm, a lot of history, and we actually do still have farmland in the Garden State.  We have a lot to offer anyone who would be lucky enough to come visit.  But, as a native Jersey Girl, I am sad to say I couldn’t begin to tell you the half of it.  I grew up in central New Jersey, have spent a lot of time down the shore, and worked in northern New Jersey for a while, but I know I’ve missed a lot of the unique sites and restaurants and other cultural aspects in the state because, like so many people, I live within my comfort zone and take a lot of what we have to offer for granted.

I have decided to explore my home state with new eyes and hopefully in the process, be able to defend its honor!  I am determined to uncover the rich culture and creativity within the state.  I’m hoping that I will discover treasures to share with all of you and eventually help my home state develop a more accurate reputation than the one it seems to have now.

Along my journey, if you have any suggestions for me as far as sites to see or restaurants to try, please email me or post them to this blog.

I’m looking forward to the challenge!

Melissa
The Jersey Girl 🙂